Op Ed: Denver Is Missing the Open-Space Opportunity of the Century!

Park Hill Golf Club
Denver is missing the open-space opportunity of the century. Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC), located east of Colorado Boulevard between 35th and 40th avenues, now provides 155 acres of open space (zoned OS-B, Open Space – Recreation) for our city. It is owned by Clayton Trust, a nonprofit that provides educational programs for children from birth to five years. In 1997, Denver paid $2 million to Clayton for a perpetual conservation easement on PHGC, requiring that the land be used for open space, specifically an 18-hole golf course, and prohibiting any development of the property. If an October 13, 2000, Agency Agreement between Denver and Clayton is terminated for any reason, Clayton is obligated to grant all rights to PHGC to the city. It seems that Denver holds all the cards it needs to acquire the PHGC land and designate it as a city park or allow its current use as an 18-hole golf course.

The Trust for Public Land gives Denver an overall park score of only 64 out of 100. For park land as a percent of city area, Denver is at only 8 percent, out of a high of 20 percent, according to TPL. PHGC is the largest remaining tract available to fill this park shortage in Denver.

Mayor Michael B. Hancock is co-chair of Mayors for Parks. In its website video, Hancock says that parks "are vital to the overall health and sustainability of our city, the overall economic development of our city, and it’s important for me to elevate that. ..."

In his 2017 State of the City address, Hancock noted that “our forebears had the generosity and foresight to purchase 14,000 acres of mountain parks over the last 100 years” and “we must do everything we can to protect our open spaces.”

It is time for Hancock to walk the walk to protect PHGC. The golf course is operated by ARCIS Equity Partners, whose lease expires at the end of this year. While the City and Clayton wait until July 1 to see if ARCIS exercises its right to the first of two five-year lease extensions, the city is not standing still. Instead, it appears that the Hancock administration is assuming the PHGC land will be developed. It is starting down the development path by:

— Actively considering the nullification of the conservation easement so that Clayton will be free to develop the PHGC land. It could decide to develop as much as 100 percent of the land or a portion of it or none of it, but Clayton CEO/President Charlotte Brantley states that her organization needs $1,000,000 in annual rental fees from the golf course or $24,000,000 for the purchase of the 155 acres of land.

— Passing an ordinance condemning 25 acres on the northeast corner of PHGC for yet another northeast Denver detention pond to serve I-70 under the city’s controversial Platte to Park Hill stormwater drainage project, plus a temporary taking that will close the entire PHGC for two years during construction. During this time, City Park Golf Course will also be closed as one-third of its acreage is converted into another detention pond; Overland Golf Course will be closed for a music festival for more than five weeks each season; and Fitzsimons Golf Course will be permanently closing. The City expects to spend $10.7 million to restore PHGC after construction of the detention pond.

What’s next? Watch for Mayor Hancock to open the door to development of PHGC by changing the OS-B (Open Space – Recreation) zoning that now protects PHGC, and take note of how your council member votes on this important issue. Only a handful of Denver’s political leaders have shown an interest in preserving PHGC land as open space. However, it’s safe to assume that developers are circling this opportunity, because they know they’ll get a good deal from the Hancock administration.

There will be an informational public forum at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 10, to discuss the future of the Park Hill Golf Course. The event will be held at Park Hill Congregational UCC, 2600 Leyden Street, Denver. I hope to see you there to address this great opportunity to establish a large amount of green space in our ever-densifying, congested city.

Maria Flora is a retired attorney and parks advocate. She can be reached at [email protected]

Westword occasionally publishes op eds on important issues in metro Denver. Have a topic you'd like to address? Send a note to [email protected]